City of Manila

Santo Domingo Church in Intramuros

October every year is a special occasion for one of the metropolis’ most prominent Catholic churches. In particular, this church celebrates two important occasions: the feast day of its Marian patron and the anniversary of its establishment in its current location. And what is this church is the Urban Roamer referring to? Why, it is none other than the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, considered to be the one of the largest Catholic churches in Metro Manila.

For us to better appreciate the significance of this landmark, it is important for us to learn its history. For that, we have to first visit the Walled City that is Intramuros in Manila, right where Santo Domingo began.

A Dominican Home

Santo Domingo Church’s history actually is a long and colorful one. It is, after all, one of the eight original churches that gave Intramuros the monicker of “the Little Vatican.” And like some of its peers like the Manila Cathedral, Santo Domingo went through a number of reconstructions as calamities and war brought the structure down each time.

The first Santo Domingo Church was built in 1587 to be the head mission church of the Dominican missionaries who arrived in Manila that year. The church was named in honor of the founder of the Dominican Order, after whom also the Dominicans were named: the Spanish priest St. Dominic (Domingo in Spanish) de Guzman. The church, built with the help of the Archdiocese of Manila, was made with light materials, so when an earthquake hit Manila two years later, the church suffered significant damage.

Santo Domingo 2.0 was built soon after, this time made larger and with stronger materials used. Inaugurated in 1592, the church would first gain significance when a Marian image known as the Lady of the Holy Rosary was enshrined in the church. Which was fitting considering it was St. Dominic and the Dominican order that propagated the practice of praying the rosary among the Catholics.

While veneration to Marian images was nothing new even at the time when Catholicism was beginning to take shape, this particular image became an object of greater devotion over the years. The catalyst for its popularity was the Spanish-Filipino victory in the Battles of La Naval de Manila in 1646 against the Dutch forces that tried to overthrow the Spaniards for control of the country. Despite the lack of military might against the Dutch, the combined Spanish and Filipino forces managed to prevail, a feat that was attributed to the intercession of the Lady of the Holy Rosary, whom the Spanish-Filipino forces prayed to for help. Since then, the image enshrined in Santo Domingo Church would become known as the Lady of La Naval de Manila (officially,the Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila).

Building Grandeur

Meanwhile the church was still hit with calamities. Earthquakes in 1603 and 1645 destroyed Santo Domingo 2.0 and 3.0 (considering that the 1645 earthquake occured a year before La Naval, you can imagine the dire straits the Spanish colonial government was in at the time). So as the church, albeit in a ruined state, was gaining popularity with the enshrined Lady of La Naval de Manila, the Dominicans proceeded to build a bigger and grander church.

Santo Domingo Church 4.0 in 1858 (photo courtesy of Retrato/Filipinas Heritage Library)

The result was Santo Domingo 4.0, which was inaugurated in 1753 after years of continuous work. It was in the Neoclassical architecture which later had an ornate facade that was said to have been inspired from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The church managed to survive the looting by British forces when it invaded Manila in 1763, though many church items such as the jewels of the Lady of La Naval were taken by the British. However, more than a century later, another earthquake would hit Manila in 1863. Because of this, the church suffered serious damages as significant parts of the church toppled down.

In the midst of this setback, plans were quickly drafted for Santo Domingo 5.0. The task of rebuilding the church fell in the hands of Felix Roxas Sr., who is known as the first Filipino architect (Tomas Mapua though is the first Filipino licensed architect, so no point of contention here). Taking a cue perhaps from Santo Domingo 4.0, Roxas drew up the design of what would be Santo Domingo 5.0 with the same level of grandeur, if not greater, as that of its predecessor. The only difference is that the fifth Santo Domingo would be Neo-Gothic in character, just like San Sebastian which was constructed years after.

Santo Domingo Church 5.0 (image courtesy courtesy of Hecho Ayer)

Santo Domingo 5.0 was completed by 1868 and was hailed by many at the time as a work of art, to say the least. Apart from its Neo-Gothic architecture, it featured an elegantly-crafted retablos by Fr. Joaquin Sabater of University of Santo Tomas and intricate door carvings by renowned artist Isabelo Tampinco. It also used some of the finest wood in the country such as narra, ipil, and molave.

The End and Aftermath

Sadly, Santo Domingo 5.0, like many of Intramuros’ churches, met its end in World War II. Unlike the other Intramuros churches, Santo Domingo was not destroyed during the Battle of Manila in 1945. In fact, the church was destroyed by Japanese bombs on December 21, 1941, less than a month before the Japanese entered Manila. It was one of the first structures to be destroyed during the war as the bombing left much of the church in ruins. Fortunately, a number of Spanish-era items managed to survive the bombing, including the image of the Lady of La Naval. With the church destroyed though, they were transferred to the Santissima Rosario Church in University of Santo Tomas for safekeeping.

Santo Domingo 5.0 after the war (image by John Tewell via LIFE/Flickr)

After the war, the Dominicans opted not to build what would have been Santo Domingo 6.0 on Intramuros. Instead, they opted to build the church this time in a new site in the then sparsely-populated area in the then newly-declared capital of the country which is Quezon City. The land where the old Santo Domingo Church was located was eventually acquired by the government. A portion of the property became the site of the Intramuros revenue district office of Bureau of Internal Revenue. The other half was acquired by Far East Bank to be the site of its Intramuros branch which, in turn became a property of Bank of the Philippine Islands by virtue of its acquisition of Far East Bank during the 1990s.


To be continued

Acknowledgements as well to Intramuros Administration, Ciudad Murada, and Nostalgia Filipinas.

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